Many kids would rather seek their own path than join the family business they’ve grown up in, but not Toby Bensimon.
After 18 years in different roles with the company, Bensimon was named managing director of Shiels Jewellers earlier this year. As well as running the family business, he founded Bestspresso in 2011, distributing Italian coffee pods around Australia.
We talked to Bensimon about his life in business:
What was it like growing up working in the family business at Shiels? What lessons did you learn from your parents’ running of the company?
I have been in the jewellery game since I was born with my mum rocking my bassinette under the counter weeks after I was born and, lucky for me, I’ve always been into it. Jewellery is a family obsession. I have worked in the business since I was a teenager, so it seems very natural to me.
My parents always told me that hard work and avoiding more mistakes than our competitors would lead to success. My dad specifically taught me to look through rough patches and think in terms of five to ten year timeframes when developing strategies. Short term fixes to problems should always be implemented in a way congruent with long term goals for the business.
You studied political science, English, philosophy – what made you decide to work in business?
Politics is the only endeavour through which it is mandatory to have an understanding of all human activity, from education to building train tracks, so it always fascinated me. Philosophy teaches you how to live a good and analysed life, which I believe makes your brain healthy in ways that no other form of knowledge can.
I studied English because it was my strongest subject and I love my mother tongue. I wasn’t ever going to pass muster in a political career at any level, I’m just not cut out for it, but jewellery and the business built by my parents offered a way for me to get involved in retail and to apply many of the skills I gained at university.
What led to the creation of Bestspresso?
Bestspresso was an idea hatched following a disagreement with my father about the cost of supplying coffee for our office Nespresso® machine. My dad thought we were using too much coffee and I thought we weren’t using enough and we reached a stalemate on whether to fund our staff’s heightened love of coffee.
I refused to get rid of the machine, but rather begun importing Caffè Vergnano 1882 Nespresso® compatible coffee capsules as they were much better value and produced by Italy’s oldest coffee roasting house, so tasted good as well. As we were the first company in Australia to launch compatible capsules into major retailers. The business gained traction immediately and blossomed into a very successful enterprise with over 3000 retail outlets across the country stocking our capsules.
Why do you think the company has grown so quickly?
Being the first in market helps in fast moving consumer goods. Major retailers tend to avoid establishing new relationships unless they offer something compelling, as the risks associated with new businesses are broadly unattractive to them. As it happened, we were offering them something that they had been looking for over many years, so they were delighted to begin a business relationship with a couple of coffee obsessed guys.
The support that followed has been absolutely astonishing for us with our three top clients Foodland, Officeworks and Harvey Norman placing our product in the best positions across all of their stores. We are lucky to have such great retail partners who have been the engine to our success, having a strong belief in the efficacy of this product from day one.
What are your plans for Bestspresso and Shiels in the future?
Bestspresso will continue to grow as we range ourselves further into more retail stores across the country. Now that the product has reached its tipping point, we are being contacted weekly for new distribution opportunities.
For Shiels, we have plans to open more stores in Brisbane before setting our sights on NSW and VIC where we see opportunities for a further 50 to 60 stores. Our goal is to grow into markets where our brand is well received and where our customers want us to be. The data from our web sales shows a significant percentage of our online customer base is from Melbourne and Sydney. This is exciting as it shows we have a ready market in these areas, proving with their Paypal accounts they want Shiels to venture East.